Advocates seek mayor’s support to save Morton Williams supermarket

Greenwich Village residents and community advocates gathered in front of a Morton Williams supermarket under threat of displacement by NYU, pressuring the university to allow it to stay in its current location.

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Carmo Moniz

Neighbors and supporters protest against the displacement of the Morton Williams supermarket on Mercer Street. (Carmo Moniz for WSN)

Carmo Moniz, Deputy News Editor

A yearslong battle to preserve a local Morton Williams supermarket located on land owned by NYU gave rise to a rally in front of the Greenwich Village store on Tuesday, Dec. 13. More than 150 residents, community activists and supermarket workers demanded that the grocery store, which may soon be demolished and moved to a nearby location to make room for a public school, stay at its current location or be moved somewhere else on the block. Attendees also called on Mayor Eric Adams and other elected officials to support their efforts.

Save Our Supermarket, an organization led by neighborhood advocates, has been leading the fight for the supermarket’s preservation, and has created a petition that garnered more than 7,500 signatures in support of their mission. 

Alan Gerson is the co-chair of Save Our Supermarket and a former city councilmember. He said that he believes that 181 Mercer Street, a billion-dollar NYU development slated to open this spring, is the only other suitable location for the supermarket. 181 Mercer will add new common spaces, classrooms, housing facilities and more to NYU’s Washington Square campus.

“What I want to come from this is awareness by the city government that the community feels very strongly about keeping the supermarket here,” Gerson said. “This is New York — we could be creative and smart enough and find the resources to have both the school and the supermarket.”

181 Mercer was a part of a larger university expansion plan introduced by former president John Sexton, and participated in discussions with the city about the future of the supermarket’s plot, located at LaGuardia Place and Bleecker Street. In 2012, the university came to an agreement with the New York City School Construction Authority — which oversees the construction of schools in the city — allowing it to use the plot at LaGuardia Place and Bleecker Street to build a public school if it gave notice before the end of 2014. 

The agreement was twice extended to the end of 2021, and the School Construction Authority claimed use of the plot in November of last year, temporarily endangering the supermarket’s existence. The university considered allocating space in the bottom of 181 Mercer for the supermarket, but later dropped the plan because it did not believe that the school authority would decide to exercise its option on the plot. 

NYU issued a joint statement on Nov. 1 alongside several local politicians, including Rep. Jerrold Nadler, state assemblymember Deborah Glick and state senators Brad Hoylman and Brian Kavanagh, promising that it would find a way for both the supermarket and the school to stay in the area. After the Dec. 13 rally, NYU reiterated this promise.

”We know that the presence of a nearby supermarket is an important issue to residents of the Silver Towers and Washington Square Village superblocks and to the neighborhood, as is the presence of a school. NYU is continuing to work in concert with local elected officials on this issue,” NYU spokesperson John Beckman wrote to WSN.

Attendees of the rally also called for the preservation of a community garden located next to the Morton Williams, which they said will be destroyed if the supermarket is demolished. A spokesperson for Morton Williams said that supermarket leadership is thankful for the support the company has received from the community.

“The Morton Williams family is grateful for the outpouring of support from the community, and from the workers and from the unions,” the spokesperson said. “We’re hopeful that through a collective effort we will be able to preserve the supermarket for a very long time in the Greenwich Village community.”

The future of the supermarket, which is one of 14 Morton Williams locations in Manhattan, has been a point of controversy in the Greenwich Village community for years, and contributed to residents’ opposition to university real estate developments. Carol Barton, a local resident who attended the rally, said that many older people in the neighborhood rely on the store, and would struggle in its absence.

“There’s no other supermarket in the neighborhood, the neighborhood has a lot of old people in it — where are they supposed to get their food?” Barton said. “If I were a parent, I wouldn’t send my kid to NYU to study science, because NYU doesn’t think the neighbors have to eat. That’s kind of an essential bodily function.”

Members of two unions representing Morton Williams employees also participated in the rally. Nikki Kateman, a representative from one of the unions, said that leadership participated in the rally to show their support for preserving the supermarket and garden while also finding a location for the public school.

“It’s really critical that we save the supermarket because it gives dozens of good union jobs — many people have worked here for years and years and years,” Kateman said. “But also it’s a larger picture. One of the things we do as a union — besides fight for good wages and benefits and obviously jobs — also is to support communities. The last thing we want is a food desert.”

Contact Carmo Moniz at [email protected]